The Student of Color Fashion Show came back better than ever in Olin Memorial Library on Saturday, April 22. Every moment was powerful, celebratory, and filled with talent, featuring looks from 10 different designers and an intermission performance by Nolan Lewis ’25. Hoards of students gathered to cheer on those strutting down the runway, and the energy was electric.
The event, organized by the SOC Fashion Show Committee, highlights the importance of fashion to student culture. It was originally slated to be a WesFest event, but the Office of Admissions decided not to include it in the programming right before spring break, leaving event coordinators to scramble to find a way to still pull off the event. However, they did so with incredible success.
The show provided a space to highlight the work and talent of students of color on campus and celebrate of creativity and culture.
“I feel like there’s a lot of very white groups on campus, you see that in a lot of the bands that perform here too,”designer and board member Siggy Soriano ’25 said. “It’s so much white art being shown and loved, but we don’t really see a lot of art from students of color on campus…having a space for students of color and in the fashion industry too, because that is also very predominantly white, but I feel like people, students of color can dress really well and we need to showcase that.”
One designer for the show, Xandra Chen ’24, talked about her journey to discovering her style and elaborated on what it’s like to be a designer on campus.
“I feel like I really first discovered fashion when I was at Wesleyan, or I discovered my personal relationship with fashion,” Chen said. “It’s also really fun to be able to create clothing for my friends. I’ve participated in the fashion magazine and the pop-ups that we’ve had and I’ve been able to sell my clothing. It’s really cool to be able to walk around campus and see people wearing things I made. So I’m excited for stuff that I’ve made to be worn by people that I love and my friends and to be in a fashion show.”
As advertised in the show’s promotional materials, the event was intended to provide an artistic space for and by students of color and to showcase talent across campus.
“[There were] student photographers and a lot [of] students [were] MCing and DJing and organizing music, it’s just a massive project and I think that’s so cool,” Chen said.
Student models were brought in, and after being chosen from a lookbook, they got to work closely with designers and organizers. This event provided students with the unique opportunity to engage with artistic empowerment in a community space dedicated to students of color.
“Honestly I feel like when I [got] on the stage it [was] going to be really empowering and I think I [saw] people who are really proud of the visions and, I hope, just having fun,” Anika Kewalramani ’24, a model for the show, said. “Everyone was just really supportive and wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable. It was a vibe.”
From the moment the audience began to arrive, it became clear that this event was organized to a tee. With the number of attendees capped at 300, the project drew a massive crowd. Those with tickets were pointed to the main floor, while others were ushered to the Olin skyboxes to watch from above or even within the stacks. Faces could be seen all around, pressed up against the glass, eager to watch the event unfold.
“It’s been definitely such a cool experience and…so much preparation has gone into it,” Chen said. “Everything that is happening has been done by students. I think that’s a really important part of Wesleyan.”
Designers took the opportunity to highlight their culture and lived experience. Soriano paid homage to her parents and the sacrifices they have made for her.
“The line is inspired by how hard my parents have worked to get me to where I am today,” Soriano said. “So like I said, I just took clothes from my dad’s closet and upgraded them a little bit with denim and these cool silhouettes. Just showing appreciation for my parents cause they work really hard to get me to Wesleyan.”
The process of design and creation became a collaborative space for students of color as well. A space described by all as incredibly valuable and, most importantly, supportive. This uplifting energy could be felt by not only the designers and organizers, but also by audience members screaming and clapping for their friends and classmates.
In the past, this event has been part of WesFest programming for incoming first years. The idea was to give students of color a platform for their creations, while showing prospective students that these possibilities are available at Wesleyan.
“So they basically advertise it to all the prospective students,” SOC Fashion Show Committee member Faijul Rhyhan ’23 said. “This is a thing that we do and we really support, so we’d love for you to come, we’re kind of part of the WesFest programming. But every year we run into a ton of difficulties with the administration based [on] miscommunications from them, last minute changes, et cetera.”
This year proved to be especially challenging for the organizing committee, with less communication from the Office of Admissions than usual.
“I kind of get ghosted, where I’m waiting to get into contact with people,” Rhyhan said. “I’m kind of getting the runaround where the Associate Dean of Admissions is talking to me instead of the person who was responsible for us before, who was [Assistant Director of Admission Events] Jordan [Nyberg]. It was just super hard to get any information.”
Right before spring break the board was informed that they would no longer be a part of WesFest for this year and that Beckham Hall, their usual location, had been booked by other events. They also lost access to funding from the Office of Admissions. Funding is critical to the show, as the board provides every designer with about $100 to create their lines.
“That meant we were put on the hook for $1,100 out of our own pockets if we didn’t figure out a way around this and then on top of that, [didn’t have] the venue that we use every year,” Rhyhan said. “We’re responsible for paying somebody back but on top of that, we’re also responsible for finding a new venue…. We have the budget from the SBC, but all in all, we feel very kind of slighted.”
The Office of the Admissions chalked this removal up to a one-time logistical issue and expressed their interest in continuing a relationship with the show in the future.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out this year due to space and timing issues,” Nyberg wrote in a message to The Argus. “We worked closely with show organizers beginning in November to try and make it work. When we realized it wasn’t going to happen during WesFest we did everything in our power to help the group receive funding elsewhere so the show could still go on this semester.”
However, the board felt differently about this decision, noting a pattern in behavior rather than a single instance of miscommunication.
“When it became clear that it wasn’t convenient for them to work with us, they kind of just dropped it without any further notice or even offering resources to help,” Rhyhan said. “We felt like the school was using us kind of as a glorified admissions show thing to kind of trick people into coming in…it was really clear that the school was using us for promo and diversity pictures and stuff like that.”
They echoed these sentiments in a speech which ended the show on Saturday. After thanking contributors, the board took the time to call out what they saw as injustices and negative culture shifts at Wesleyan.
“We want to take this time to remind you of one thing: campus culture is dead and Wesleyan does not want to bring it back,” Rhyhan said. “POC events like these build community at the school. Every time someone at Wesleyan wants to have an event they have to jump through hurdle after hurdle to get it done. The POC at the University are more than just diversity material.”
Soriano reiterated the importance of the SOC Fashion Show in providing a safe, creative, and collaborative space for student creators on campus.
“Working and collaborating in a space with only students of color, which obviously doesn’t really exist in most places on campus,” Soriano said. “It’s been inspiring but also just comforting because I feel like whatever you do in the fashion show, everyone’s gonna hype you up and everyone’s gonna be so supportive. That’s something I never really felt in high school. I felt so just isolated. But now I just feel so included…this was really nice to work with other people of color and also see how their brains work in this same space.”
Lia Franklin can be reached at [email protected].